By Carys Crossen
The week the pregnancy test displayed two blue lines Elise’s baby was the size of a sesame seed.
Two weeks later, it was the size of a blueberry, according to the pregnancy website she had started checking compulsively. Another fortnight later and it had the same dimensions as a grape.
Elise wondered whether her baby was a red grape or a green one.
Pregnancy could be quantified with a stroll through the fruit and veg section at any supermarket, it seemed. When Elise was twelve weeks gone, her baby had turned into a lime. By fifteen weeks it was an apple.
‘Do you think that’s why Gwyneth Paltrow named her kid Apple?’ Tom, her husband, asked, from where he was valiantly trying to assemble the pram they’d purchased.
‘I doubt it,’ Elise muttered, closing her laptop. ‘I don’t get this obsession with comparing babies to fruit. It’s not like we’re going to name it after a vegetable.’
‘We could call it Turnip,’ Tom offered jokingly.
‘Sure, why not? It’d be unusual,’ answered Elise. Tom gaped at her in horror until he spotted the glint in her eye.
The week their baby was the size of an onion, Elise had a nightmare in which she gave birth to several oranges that came popping out merrily after the baby emerged.
‘Ooh, not seen that for a while,’ said one of the dream-midwives, just before Elise woke up in a cold sweat.
Tom laughed when she told him. Elise scowled.
‘It wasn’t funny, Tom,’ she groused. ‘I’ve got no idea what’s going on inside me. What if it does look like a bloody orange when it comes out?’
‘That won’t happen – not unless it’s jaundiced or something,’ Tom mused.
Elise chucked a pillow at him.
Week twenty-three. Baby was now the equivalent of a mango.
Elise wondered drearily why maternity websites insisted on comparing babies to fruit and veg. She asked her friend Linda, mother of two boys who squashed every bit of fruit they were given into paste.
‘Fruit’s easy to compare. Everyone knows roughly what size an apple or a leek is. Or maybe it just sounds nicer than saying “your baby is now the size of a tin of cat food.” Or it’s now the size of a roll of toilet paper,’ Linda shrugged.
‘The size of a cricket ball,’ she suggested.
‘The size of a mobile phone,’ grinned Linda.
‘The size of my ‘to-do’ list.’
‘Hell, giving birth to a baby that big would make your eyes water!’
Twenty-seven weeks. Baby was now transmuted into a cauliflower.
‘I hate cauliflowers,’ Elise grumbled to Tom as she rubbed at her legs, which were cramping unmercifully. He glanced up from where he was trying to massage her feet.
‘I thought you liked my cauliflower cheese,’ he protested.
‘I do,’ Elise sighed. ‘It’s just metaphorical cauliflower babies I don’t like.’
Tom’s face assumed his ‘my-wife-has-gone-barmy’ expression. It was becoming increasingly familiar.
A few weeks later, baby was the size of a coconut.
‘That was your nickname,’ Aunt Julie beamed when she visited. ‘Coconut! You had a little tuft of black hair! It was so sweet! Of course, it all fell out and you were bald until you turned two. Like a boiled egg.’
Elise wondered what would be easier to deal with: a boiled egg baby or a coconut baby. She tried to imagine giving birth to a boiled egg baby – nope, no good, it would crack during delivery. The coconut baby would be okay, but trying to push it out…
She winced, crossed her legs and began talking about baby names. Aunt Julie favoured Newport for a girl and Plainville for a boy.
‘All the rage in America,’ she assured Elise earnestly.
Suddenly, ‘Turnip’ wasn’t sounding too bad to Elise.
Time passed. Baby grew to roughly the size of a honeydew melon. Elise had never liked melon.
She leafed through the book of folk tales she’d found, coated with dust, on her bookcase. She hadn’t read it since university. But, bored one long rainy Sunday afternoon, she’d picked it up at random and her eyes had lit upon the phrase baby made of porridge.
Babies could be made out of all sorts of foodstuffs in old wives’ tales. Porridge. Marzipan. Bread. Cheese. Some of the babies turned into flesh and blood children by the end of the story. Others were baked into pies. Some melted or turned mouldy.
Elise wondered morbidly at the frequency of food babies in the old stories. Freud would probably say it was an unconscious desire to eat ones’ children or some such. Or maybe food babies were just easier to deal with than real ones. If they screamed all night, you could just stick them in the fridge till they settled down.
40 weeks. Baby was now a pumpkin. Elise looked like one too.
Her waters broke at eight in the morning. It took two hours to get to hospital because Tom was in such a tizzy that he lost the car keys and ran out of the house to hunt for them in the garden before remembering he’d left them in his coat pocket.
Twelve hours later, Elise decided baby didn’t feel so much like a pumpkin as a bloody pineapple. But she kept pushing, kept squeezing Tom’s hand, kept going. Till with one last surge of strength, it was done.
‘A lovely little boy,’ the midwife said, holding up a damp, bright red scrap, which was yelling lustily. Elise and Tom stared, entranced. Then Elise began to giggle.
‘He’s not a turnip, he’s a tomato,’ she chortled, head lolling, totally exhausted, her face aglow.
Tom regarded his son lovingly. He did look rather like a bad-tempered tomato.
‘You like tomatoes,’ he reminded Elise.
‘Love them,’ she answered, as the midwife placed her baby on her stomach, and his screams subsided into gentler wails, and she stroked his downy head for the first time, his tiny fingers curled against her skin.